June 17, 2020

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In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday, June 15, 2020, that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited under federal law.

The 6-3 majority opinion is authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan.

“In Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964], Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee,” wrote Justice Gorsuch.  “We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

The Court’s decision came in three cases, consolidated for argument, brought by gay and transgender employees claiming they were discriminated against in violation of Title VII.  In one, a Georgia man contended that he was fired after joining a gay recreational softball league in 2013.  In another, a funeral home director was fired two weeks after coming out as a transgender woman to her employer.

The decision is widely recognized as the most significant affirmation of LGBTQ rights in the United States since the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.  Employers should be cognizant that the decision conclusively resolves any previous uncertainty about the application of federal anti-discrimination laws on claims based on sexual identity or gender identity.